I took my kids to the pediatrician for their back-to-school checkups recently. Health-wise, both kids checked out just fine.
But as is the case every year, my kids’ doctor pulled me to the side to mention my daughter’s weight.
“She’s gained 12 pounds,” her pediatrician mentioned in a whisper. She showed me the height/weight charts for her age, showing her weight hovering slightly above the top line for her age group. Oh, she said in passing, she also grew an inch.
I did my best not to Kanye shrug. “Did she mention to you that she’s doing yoga?” I asked.
“Yes,” the doctor said, then gave me the name of a nutritionist. She also ordered some blood work to check my daughter’s blood sugar/insulin and cholesterol levels, among other things.
Everything came back normal, as it always does.
My daughter is a muscular girl. She always has been. She is as strong as an ox. I outweigh her by a good thirty pounds, and she picks me up like it’s nothing.
She doesn’t play any sports now, but was heavily into gymnastics for about four years. She has tried every sport from soccer to softball. She swims, ice skates and bikes. Last year, at 12, she did adult aerial acrobatics classes. This year, she is taking adult yoga classes with me.
And did I mention she’s a size 6? Hardly a size worn by the clinically obese.
Yet, ever since she was a baby, doctors have plotted her weight on a graph and told me, in hushed tones, that her weight was in the upper percentiles for children her age.
Her plots on the height/weight graphs have remained remarkably consistent since birth. She’s of average height and above-average weight, according to the “official” weight charts.
For some reason I can’t fathom, her doctors have equated “above average” with “abnormal” and “weight problem.” This infuriates me. Humans come in a range of shapes and sizes, heights and weights. The fact that my daughter’s weight has plotted consistently on the height/weight graphs since birth strongly indicates that this is just how she’s built, period.
I always feel like there’s some implicit indictment of my parenting involved in these discussions. Every year, the doctor grills me about what the kids eat. “Do they drink soda and processed juice? Do they drink milk? Do they eat vegetables? Do they eat fried foods or fast food? Do they eat sweets and candy?”
My answers always seem to surprise her. The kids get soda only when we go out to eat at restaurants. The only juice I buy is orange juice, which they drink mixed with seltzer. My daughter drinks fat-free milk, and my son prefers rice milk. They love vegetables, especially spinach. Fried foods are rare, and they mostly can’t stand fast food. You’d have to force-feed them McDonald’s, which they’d promptly regurgitate.
The doctor always looks at me like she doesn’t quite trust these answers, even when the kids give consistent responses. For many years, I was also overweight. In these questions, I saw the assumption that here we were, this fat black family, greasing it up on Popeye’s and ribs and fries with nary a veggie in sight.
Except the kids weren’t, and still aren’t, fat. The reality that we have a healthy diet, that we generally don’t eat “soul food,” and that my kids are quite physically active, doesn’t jibe with the chronic-obesity-in-the-black-community stereotype.
This year, it annoyed me a bit that my daughter’s doctor hasn’t seemed to notice my own fairly dramatic weight loss. Hey, I wanted to shout, I’ve dropped close to 70 pounds in the last two years. Can you stop looking at us as a bunch of fat black folks now?
Before we left the doctor’s office, I told my daughter, as I do every year, not to worry about the doctor’s comments about her weight and to just keep doing what she’s been doing.
I said to her, “I know how and what you eat. You have a very healthy diet. You eat very little junk food, and only as an occasional treat. You work out. Whatever your weight, you haven’t gone up in size at all in the last two years. Don’t worry about what they’re saying.”
I am trying to raise a teen black girl with a healthy body image. If my daughter were in fact in danger of having a real weight problem, I would be on the case. I struggled with my own weight for most of my life, and I feel like I have finally figured out how to maintain control. If I were concerned about her weight, I would be working with her to count her calories, to honestly assess her food intake, and to balance it against her activity level. She would be drinking more water and getting more daily exercise.
She’s already doing all of that. My own weight loss efforts have provided her with good examples of how to lose weight and keep it off the right way. Her body type is what it is. The last thing she needs is to become insecure and anorexic because she’s not tall and thin. She will never be tall and thin. And that’s OK.
As long as she remains within her own range of normal, I’m not worried about her weight. In my opinion, as long as that remains the case, her doctors shouldn’t be worried, either.